More than 5,000 tribal families forced to flee their homes in Bastar due to Maoist violence may finally get a chance to return home. After six months of deliberations between the Centre, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribe (NCST) and state governments of Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha, the process of conducting survey of displaced families is about to begin.
On 27 December, the Chhattisgarh government wrote to Telangana seeking help to conduct a survey of Chhattisgarh tribals who have taken refuge in various districts of the state, especially Khammam. As per the letter reviewed by Firstpost: "NCST has directed states to do social and economic survey of tribal population migrated to neighboring states of Andhra Pradesh. Telangana, Maharashtra and Odisha with the help of local revenue and tribal welfare department of Chhattisgarh. To make inquiry of the present status of those people at the migrated place and to know whether they want to return and to receive the forest rights claims of such families and issue titles as per their eligibility."
The issue was taken up by NCST in its meeting on 2 July, 2019, in which the commission was informed that 3,000 tribal families are living in Telangana's Khammam district. The minutes of the meeting reviewed by Firstpost revealed that the Chhattisgarh representative assured that the state government will ensure those willing to return have forest rights as well as houses, drinking water facilities, hospitals and other amenities.
Concerns were raised that forest department of other states were harassing displaced tribal families and it was the responsibility of the state governments to protect their rights and livelihood. NCST has also asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to assess the seriousness and gravity of the situation, including number of families residing in each state, the conditions in which they are staying, sources of livelihood and availability of various welfare schemes.
The commission was told that some families, scared of situation on the ground in Bastar, would not be keen on returning and in that situation, certain arrangements should be made after discussion among states for their resettlement at their present location. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs has been asked to clarify the rules and guidelines related to interstate displacement and rights over alternative land.
“Section 3(1)(m) of Forest Right Act, 2006 provides right to in situ rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where the Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers have been illegally evicted or displaced from forest land of any description without receiving their legal entitlement to rehabilitation prior to 13 December 2005. It is to be noted that while displaced families want to be settled in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, whereas, some displaced families want safer place in their native district in Chhattisgarh. As in situ rehabilitation is to be done either over forest land or over alternative land and since the matter involves area of two or more states, a clarification is required whether this provision is applicable in case of interstate displacement,” the letter to Ministry of Tribal Affairs read.
Once the survey is done, the state might take up the other issues related to habitation. According to senior government officials, tribal families may not like to go back to areas in Bastar region, which are affected by Maoist violence. The state government and Ministry of Tribal Affairs are working on comprehensive guidelines for recognition of habitat rights of particularly vulnerable tribal groups.
As of now, Chhattisgarh is implementing the rights of five tribes — Kamar, Baiga, PahadiKorba, Birhor and Abujhmadia — which accounts for a population of 1.82 lakh spread across 16 different districts.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has asked the concerned states for a detailed report citing the direction issued by the NCST.
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Updated Date: Jan 09, 2020 20:17:42 IST